I once read somewhere that an ongoing chemical reaction that loses fuel as we age is the reason it seems like time is flying by as an adult compared to its glacial pace as a child. It’s not that the days actually fly off the calendar faster as we age, it’s that our brains respond to the passage of time differently when we are younger. Each day becomes more meaningful as we realize there are fewer and fewer of them available to us. Perhaps that is why it seems more and more like everything is happening more quickly than it ever has before, and why it seems sometimes that all we can hope to hang onto is our own memories of moments that we create for ourselves and with others.
Lately I have seen this quote from Cesare Pavese in several places, and it is something that struck me the first time I heard it:
We do not remember days, we remember moments. The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.
Along those same lines, I just sent the same exact message to my son that Jackson Pollock’s dad sent to his in 1928:
The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life.
As my chemical reaction slows and the days whiz by increasingly faster, I have found myself trying to worry less about things that I cannot control and to be more conscious of my surroundings and my present moment. The future either will or will not take care of itself, but in this particular moment –in spite of the anxious flailing that certain friends know I seem to be doing in certain moments–, for the most part I am happier in many of my present moments than I recall being in 10 years.
Into the heart of a child,
I can go there,
I can stay a while.
My son (not pictured above) spoke very articulately early as a young child, and neither his mom nor I ever really did the baby-talk thing with him; we both always talked to him calmly and with humor, but using our normal voices instead of the oddly affected voices that some people use to speak to babies. When he was 23 months old, he was speaking very fluently, but he still had never spent any time unattended in front of any sort of age-inappropriate TV or movies (and had spent only a very few hours apart from either or both parents), nor given any frame of reference for a statement like the following one he made one evening while we were eating dinner:
When I was a man, I died in a hole with a gun in my mouth.
He said it just as sweetly as he said anything at that age. His mom and I looked at each other, each turning pale because we each knew the answer to what we were about to ask each other before we simultaneously asked it: Did you hear him say that? Yes, we did. So we asked him to repeat it for us, and he did –just as calmly.
That was more than 17 years ago, and we’ve all gone through various changes and revelations since then, but that topic never again came up until I mentioned it to him not long after the time I moved out of the house in 2009 — and it was met with a gentle and thoughtful I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-you-are-talking-about-but-thanks-anyway response, so I hope that is that. You never know what kind of memories people are carrying around, how they were formed, or how they may impact someone’s bias about life or any of its subtopics, and so I was glad to know my son seemed as oblivious about having said such a thing as a youngster.
So now he’s 19 and living at school in Kentucky, and I consider myself lucky to have just recently needed to replace the computer I had just gotten for him a few months back. The one needing replacement burned up in a house fire several weeks ago. His phone burned up, too, as did his keys and his shoes and the clothes he had with him. Everyone was fine, and I hope everyone who was involved whether directly or indirectly has had their eyes opened. I know that I will long recall what I saw remaining of the house more than 24 hours after the fire was extinguished; I cannot imagine what it must’ve been like to be in it, nor what memories my son and his friends must have of yelling to each other to make sure they all got out, barely escaping it with their skins.
Since that event ended much more happily than it could have, I am glad to know it will be the positive aspect of those memories that affect him as his chemical reaction continues; however, it is the moment of his proclamation about his demise as a previous man that is just one of the memories that affects mine. From the moment it was spoken, it struck me as some sort of message about the value of passing time, and how and with whom it is spent.
Part of the flailing I mentioned previously is a by-product of wrestling with myself over how exactly I have been affected by the conclusions drawn (or lack thereof, in some instances) from previous chapters in the book of my life –and how I choose to integrate the many lessons learned into the chapters that are still being written. Some of the flailing has included activities that intentionally took me out of my comfort zone; it has been up to me to decide if the potential reward from these forays make them worthwhile or not.
One realization is that my time spent considering the online dating avenue is time that could be better used doing just about anything else. That whole process is just too formal and stilted and iffy for my comfort, at least for where I am in my life today; it seems like machinery that has to be set in motion with diligence and caution, much more so than the natural way that I am accustomed to meeting people by virtue of them being involved in doing the same kinds of things in their spare time as I am. The whole thing was starting to be way more of a hassle than the time it took was worth to me. By way of illustration, I provide this summary of the date I went on months ago after carefully constructing a profile of my own and diligently sifting through the profiles of women who some computer thinks would be a good match for me:
After initial messages agreeing that the system thinks we’d be compatible, we sent a few more tentative messages back and forth comparing observations about each other’s profile. After a few tentative messages, we had a few tentative telephone calls to make sure neither of us said anything alarming/dull/stupid enough to be a show-stopper, during which we agreed to meet for dinner at an Italian restaurant that’s about a 45-minute drive for me. All of this being based on the prospect of maybe one day growing to like this person –whom I don’t already know at all– enough to want to spend a lot of my future time with them? The process was starting to seem really hollow.
When the appointed evening and time arrived, I had already been wondering whether I’d be better off just canceling the date and going solo (as has become my custom for the past few years) to see either of the 3 bands I like that I knew were playing in town, but I went ahead and drove out to the restaurant. I got there a few minutes early, and was soon greeted by a woman who looked somewhat like the one posted in the dating service profile. Our conversation went well, I suppose, for one that had none of the kind of built-in history between friends or real known-solid common ground that is usually required for me to understand what to do when it is time for “small talk”. I had mentioned prior to meeting that this would be my first computer-matched date, so most of the conversation started from there.
Once we covered most of the where-ya-from and whatcha-been-doing topics, my date volunteered that she was very comfortable using dating services, that it helped her to meet people that she wouldn’t otherwise meet. That was followed closely by the comment that she had been on a long series of first dates recommended through the service, but that ultimately it hadn’t resulted in much more for her than allowing her to dine out with new people on a regular basis and making her very conscious of how many first dates she’d been on. I thought to myself that her statements would likely fit my future assessment of my use of the service, as well, again wondering why I was bothering with such a stilted approach myself when I already know a more organic approach is required for me to ever reach true comfort with someone. We were getting along fine, but it seemed to me that the best-case scenario would be for us to become friends, and then only if we both actually wanted to try to hang out often enough to make that happen.
As I was thinking these things, we arrived at a lull in the conversation; it wasn’t any more awkward than any other aspect of the date, but then I’m not one of those people who feels as though every little space needs to be filled conversationally. In situations like this one I am often reminded of the propensity of one of my college roommates to document the 13-Minute Lull:
One evening at a party in my college days, my normally-understated roommate interrupted the lull in conversation among 8 or 10 friends by mentioning a study he’d read recently in one of his psychology or sociology classes. He cited the name of the study, the journal in which it appeared, and also the principal investigator, details that immediately lent credence to the point he was about to make: research across social gatherings between peers in the same age group has shown that, on average, approximately every 13 minutes there is a period of silence that lasts for roughly 45-60 seconds. He went on to say that the study suggested that the period and duration of the recurring lull varied across ethnicity and age, but that the averages he mentioned were those that are appropriate to our situation, and that his observations that evening had actually shown that the lull in our own party’s conversation roughly fit the pattern mentioned in the study.
At the time, my roommate sounded full of shit, and when I called him on it, he agreed that he was and that he had made up the entire story of the 13-minute lull. I have since that party gotten quite a lot of mileage out of the retelling of that particular story, but it was my unwillingness to tell it that night just to pass the time during my artificial date that made me realize that I really probably should start looking for a polite way to wrap things up and perhaps salvage what was left of the evening for the purposes of rock-and-roll. While I was mulling this over, this conversation happened instead:
Girl: Well, this is going pretty well and you seem to have a good sense of humor, so now maybe I should tell you the weird part.
Me (raising both eyebrows): Ooh, now it’s getting to the good part. Well, I haven’t met anyone who’s not weird yet, so it can’t be that bad.
Girl: Well, I told you that I recently moved back home from having lived in [other state] for a while, but I didn’t exactly tell you up front that I’m living with my mom.
Me (relieved, brows back at rest, wondering if that’s all): Ah, well, that’s not weird. I can think of a whole lot of reasons why that would make sense and wouldn’t be weird.
Girl: Well, I live there in part to save money, and in part to help my mom get over missing my dad.
Me: Oh, I am sorry, is your dad gone?
Girl: Oh, no, it’s not like that; he’s a preacher and he lives down in [other state] now.
Me: Preacher, as in Southern Baptist minister?
Girl: Yes, good guess! But he, uh, converted because he is a woman now.
Me: Wait, did you just say your dad is a Southern Baptist minister and also that he is a woman now?
Girl: Yes, my dad is transgendered and living as a woman, and he had to switch churches or find a new line of work.
Me: Wow, that’s what I thought you said! I bet he had to switch churches.
At this point I decided I couldn’t be sure if this was actual conversation or if she was trying to give me some kind of reason to bail, so I carried on with the conversation for a little while longer. We covered a lot of ground about sex-change operations, hormones, her dad’s post-op vocal range change, and as many other related questions as I could muster without saying something regrettable. I finally asked how often the family overcame the distance and got together, and this was her response:
Girl: Oh, it’s easy for us to get together because we have a time machine!
Me: Wait, your dad is a preacher and a woman, and a time machine is how your family gets to vacation together?
Girl: No, silly, a time-SHARE! We use our time-share two or three times a year to make sure we get to spend time together.
Me: Ah, and here I was thinking your were just trying to come up with something I’d find really weird. The time machine would definitely have qualified.
And that’s the moment I stopped wrestling with the idea (task?) of online dating, and decided there was still time that night to cut my losses and go back to Nashville and catch one of the bands I’d been wanting to see, and so I politely wound the conversation down and did just that.
I’ve since decided to just shelve the whole online dating thing as way more hassle than it’s worth, and just to go back to the plan of experiencing as many as I can of the fine moments that are presented to me by virtue of living where I do. Thankfully, very shortly after making this decision, out of the blue I was given an opportunity that I am hopeful will develop into a very positive relationship with someone I’ve felt close to for years now. No one knows what the future holds, and it either will or will not take care of itself, but for the moment I am happy with the hope that includes a past and a future pieced together from a growing list of memorably good moments.
Learn something new every day:
The Power of Lonely (Boston Globe)
Learning from Regret (Brain Pickings)
The Power of Vulnerability (TED Talk)